This year, Distill America, Madison's long-running spirits-tasting event, gets a weeklong preview. Madison Cocktail Week, organized by local bartenders, will launch on Feb. 25 with a series of 17 spirited events leading up to (and following) the Distill America tasting extravaganza (to be held at the new Edgewater Hotel on February 28).
Organizer Tom Dufek, director of operations at Merchant, says, "I've been to these types of events all over in other cities, and I thought, let's get something like this here."
Dufek is joined in planning by Hastings Cameron of the forthcoming Gib's Bar on Willy Street and Ruben Mendez, maître d' and sommelier at L'Etoile.
"We asked ourselves, what's the voice of Madison cocktails?" continues Dufek. "Our main theme will be collaboration. Madison works so well together. We want to grow and tighten the scene."
To that end, the week's events will feature opportunities for area bartenders to work together in everything from speed cocktail competitions to taking over each other's bars.
Local distiller Death's Door is a lead sponsor of the week, along with Milwaukee's Bittercube and local spirit-makers Yahara Bay and Old Sugar Distillery. Other liquor sponsors include High West, Koval, La Favorite, Bulleit, Milagro, Don Julio, Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve.
Some highlights of the week will include a St. George Spirits dinner at Heritage Tavern, an amari brunch at Osteria Papavero, a happy hour at Nostrano featuring North Shore Distillery; a coffee, rhum and cigar night at Maduro Cigar Bar; and an agave cocktail event with former Merchant bar manager JR Mocanu at Forequarter.
A seminar at L'Etoile entitled "Whiskey Through the Still: From Malting Floor to Glass" will focus on the explosion of craft whiskey. Genna's Lounge will host an "unorthodox" tiki takeover by Edinburgh Gin and Pig's Nose Scotch.
"These are not a black tie events," says Dufek. "We want to let our hair down."
In addition to the events leading up to Distill America, there will be three "hangover" brunches, conveniently located in three different parts of town: At Oliver's Public House on the west side, Heritage Tavern downtown, and Sujeo on the east side.
These will be followed by the Madison Cocktail Week's final event, a Bittercube-themed dinner at Graze, featuring the Milwaukee-based artisanal bitters.
Further info on event times, places and tickets is available on the event's website.